After ruling Dunleavy’s abortion-related court veto illegal, judge orders state to pay up by Jan. 1

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson has ordered Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration to pay the Alaska Court System $334,700 before Jan. 1, a consequence of Henderson’s October ruling that it was illegal for Gov. Mike Dunleavy to veto some court system funding in response to judges’ rulings on abortion.

The state may appeal Henderson’s payment order.

In 2019 and again this year, Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed $334,700 from the Alaska Court System’s budget. The governor opposes abortion, and state courts have repeatedly ruled against laws that attempt to restrict state Medicaid payments for abortion services. In both vetoes, the governor said the amount equaled the cost paid by the state for abortion services required by those rulings.

In 2019, the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued Dunleavy’s administration over the abortion-related veto, one of several the governor signed into law that year.

ACLU attorneys argued successfully that the veto was an attempt to undermine the judiciary’s independence, something enshrined in the Alaska Constitution. The constitution prescribes that the court system, Legislature and governor-led executive branch are separate but equal parts of state government.

Ruling in October, Henderson said it was too late to reverse the 2019 veto, but the 2020 veto could be reversed. After subsequent legal filings, Henderson issued a final judgment Dec. 2 saying that the state must pay within 30 days.

The state can ask for reconsideration of that judgment or appeal it. Assistant attorney general Maria Bahr said by email that the Department of Law is reviewing the matter.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.